(excerpt from Chapter Three of Rock & Roll Medicine©)
Frampton Comes Alive...Peter Frampton
Tall ships in the Boston Harbor,
Our first effort is making clothes for Peter Frampton. They are designed especially for him, even though we don’t know for sure what size he is. He is small, so we guess. A tunic top and baggy drawstring pants in peach colored shiny satin, trimmed in turquoise. Beautiful. In silvery lame’, a pair of overalls emerges out of the shimmering fabric. Magical. Our third costume is a sleeveless jumpsuit of navy blue jersey. Tiny star-shaped sequins intricately woven, edge the neck sprinkling down the front like the Milky Way. Cosmic garb. Elizabeth and I are flying on the wings of our achievement. It is a dependably hot July day when Frampton comes to town. We buzz into Arrowhead Stadium, along with twenty-five thousand others, pouring into the large red bowl. We nervously consider how to part the waters and get backstage.
“My Fly” happens. Our hand sewn signature symbol, a small
black fly, adorns a seam of the garments. The name is catchy, a reference
to our specialty of making quality men’s trousers with zippered
fly fronts. The absurdity of naming our company after an insect does
not occur to us at the time; that our icon is a pest only becomes apparent
when we eventually cater under the same name some years later. A friend
will point out to me that a food service enterprise with an insect
for a logo, coupled with the front portion of men’s pants, is
inappropriate. But we know our work is a vehicle of magic, an act of
power, a place to go with our craft, a way of following our bliss.
We, as individuals, will fly into our respective fantasies. Elizabeth
and Penny pestering our way into rock and roll history.
What happens next is unplanned. We realize our costumes might fit the other musician on the bill, Gary Wright. Making our way through the maze of dressing room trailers, we find his road manager, and show him the clothes. He thinks Gary will like them and takes us to his leader. Gary is a near-perfect fit. We offer him one, whatever he chooses. The exposure will surely jump-start our business. Gary picks out the silver overalls and Elizabeth fits them for a slight alteration. His only request is for the word OHM to appear on the front bib, in a string of blue sequins. We learn that Mr. Wright is a student of Eastern philosophy. We happily oblige and follow through with it all. Now we can say it, a major rock star is wearing ‘My Fly’ clothing. The name of his signature song takes on a resonance with us. We are the Dreamweaver. Watching the show from the VIP area, our new careers are underway, “Dreamweaver, I believe we can reach the morning light.”
We get another costume gig with an unknown English band named Aaron. The pay is nominal but we score a trip to Fort Lauderdale. Our brief effort in clothes production comes to an abrupt end. Our work soon takes a different direction, not because we originate the idea, but because fate intervenes.
It is Elizabeth, who wedges in. She is divorced and living with us, working a day job at the local McDonald’s corporate office. She has a young daughter Sheri, who lives with Elizabeth’s mom. Through her clerical work she has become familiar with the owners, who are involved in the restoration of the old Uptown Theatre, the now historic site where I saw movies as a kid. The old Friday night ritual comes to mind, when my dad would do the family thing, dinner and a movie with my mom and me.
Now I return to the Uptown, not for movies but for music. The distinctive dome, along with its once stunning interior, has grown a little run down over the years. The owners are negligent of the repairs, but quick to produce rock shows there. Elizabeth is in the right place at the right time.
A false sense of joy is in the air, stoked by cocaine, money will flow, bands appear, people come together. The Uptown becomes the convergence point, a very special rock and roll portal, the navel of the musical landscape. The presidio stage caters to a form of intimacy. The musician gravitating to the heart of the tribe will find a chamber in which every breath taken is felt. A place in which darkness provides a sanctuary, dreams flicker like old movies, ghosts come out to dance as the live music happens. It is a healing temple at the heart of the community. The spiritual nature of the journey is thinning at this point, virtue is in decline, the process of flowering out has become an episode in escapism. But voices like Bob Dylan and Lowell George will ground in vision and shine brightly. Songs will revitalize us.
With a little help from my friend, I find my spot in rock and roll in the kitchen of the musical monster, helping Lynn, the resident catering lady. Making it up as we go along or learning what we can from Lou Jane, the caterer for New West Productions. (The main competitor of NeoSpace.) My career as caterer to the stars is rooted in that space and time, the late seventies when performers at the Uptown Theatre form an extraordinary list: Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, Little Feat.
In ’77, Pink Floyd is at Kemper Arena, during the ‘Animals Tour’ and I am there as a spectator, seven months pregnant with my second child, traversing the abyss with Pigs on the Wing. I feel Brodie intensely at this show. He kicks and squirms like never before. The movement in my belly, his response to the music, is a sign of the future. Two months later, Brodie will arrive on the scene and begin his journey through the rock and roll landscape.
Indeed, catering backstage at
the Uptown Theatre turns out to be just the thing for me. The backstage
access has an immediate impact on my
life and family. Jim sneaks in his super-8 movie camera, providing
a visual record of the historical shows that unfold there. He is excited
at the prospect of it all. Hiding behind the camera, slipping into
the cracks, snaking through the building, hiding in the shadows, he
is ideally suited for the job. We, as a family, as a circle, have something
that engages us now; it is the Uptown. With Elizabeth working up front
in the box office, Jim behind the camera, and me in the kitchen, we
have it covered. The rock and roll tribe congregates. The players emerge.
By ’78, the owners of the Uptown decide to move on and a new young promoter from New York shows up on the scene. Danny Socolof, ambitious and clever, is hired by Stan Plesser of Cowtown Productions at the end of '77. Danny is an East Coast college boy; our Bill Graham, in a sense, with a vision of the Uptown as the Fillmore of the Heartland. At the beginning of ’79, he launches his own company, NeoSpace Productions, along with his friend, Richard Meltzer, another fresh face on the scene. Richard, with his curly red hair, full beard, and enthusiastic personality is as likable as Danny. Jon Katz also comes on board as marketing director, after successfully promoting shows in Lawrence, KS. They wisely hire Elizabeth and me as their official caterers at the suggestion of our mutual friend, Keith Luecke. Keith, an outspoken, swashbuckling maverick on the local scene, works for Mike and Marcy Wagoner of Good Karma Productions and later becomes production manager for NeoSpace. Danny, Richard, Jon, and Keith are young entrepreneurs with a vision and a spark. They, like us, have rock and roll dreams and the determination to see it through; they are ready to conquer the world and we are ready to feed the stars.
Drugs flow like water in these days. Cocaine becomes readily available and is considered a recreational drug with no chance of addiction. We partake in it when it is offered. With shows like Eddie Money and the Tubes, Bette and I find ourselves totally immersed in our rock and roll fantasy.
Several of my beautiful young nieces; Kim, Paula, and Shelly help out on bigger shows. Kelly, known as Kansas City Kelly, by most of the touring bands and their crews, has been a regular member of our catering team for over a year. Another niece Terry and her husband Matt, become integral parts of the operation, as well.
My nieces are gorgeous, curvaceous, full-bodied, Kansas City girls that simply glow with shining hair and a youthful radiance. Not only are they good workers but they turn the scene inside out as all heads seem to turn. Each of the girls has the look of a goddess, and they simply enchant the roadies, musicians, managers, and locals alike. The kitchen looks like a den of female cats. I become known as Aunt Penny, the den mother. Kelly and Kim’s far-reaching impact on a myriad of bands will put me on the map in a way that I would not have anticipated.
In the fall, Danny and Richard continue to seek out new creative ways of generating revenue. Along with Jon, they come up with a marketing plan proclaiming October 12th, “Peter Frampton Day”, in Salina, Kansas. Of course Elizabeth and I are incredulous. Our friends and the nieces, (at least one daughter from each of my siblings) come out of the woodwork to volunteer for our crew. Our friend Linda, from Emporia, KS. is joining the crew to help us cook. Linda brings a lightness and fun-loving element to our bunch with her fiesty personality and fiery red hair. Sheri, Elizabeth’s daughter, who is now 15, also wants to help. My future crew has surfaced.
With a full concert schedule in October, including the likes of Tom Waits and Harry Chapin, we miss out on the parade and on the presentation of the key to the city by the mayor of Salina to Mr. Frampton. We descend on the farming town that evening and check into our room.
The Bicentennial Center in Salina is my favorite place to do shows. With a full professional kitchen, complete with Hobart refrigerators and dishwashers, we are in catering heaven. No other facility that I ever work, then or in the future, has such deluxe cooking accommodations.
When we set-up Frampton’s dressing room on the afternoon of the show, we write our old friend a note on the blackboard sending him our best wishes. When we return after the show to pack up the room, we all squeal with delight that he has responded to our message. “Thanks so much, ladies.” We make friends with the crew, specifically his tour manager Chuck, and truck driver Dave, who will come to my house for dinner when they travel through Kansas City on their way to the next show in Indiana. Jim, Ambre, and Brodie get in on the fun. The music scene has suddenly entered our home, just west of the Country Club Plaza.
Chuck and Dave invite
us to the show in Terra Haute the next night. It is an invitation
that I cannot
I find myself in an
emotional battle about whether I should go. I don’t want to leave
my kids again so soon, but I can’t stand the idea of missing
We are treated as special guests and get to sit on the stage. Chuck invites us onto the bus, which is hallowed space. The three of us have made a pact, ‘if one of us goes to the bus, we all go to the bus.’ We are suddenly there. Then, the door opens and in steps Peter Frampton. He settles in and proceeds to listen to the tapes of the show, surrounded by several crewmembers carefully analyzing and meticulously breaking down the performance, seemingly note by note. We three girls are included in this. Then we begin to talk. He is making eyes at Elizabeth, while opening up to me. He has no memory of us. We talk into the night. I hear about his family and the impact of his celebrity on the lives of his loved ones. Elizabeth is invited back to his room, which is just fine by me, as I retire into Dave’s room, which is standing empty since he is now driving a truck on to the next city. Kansas City Kelly disappears with the drummer.
Early the next morning, Elizabeth calls from Frampton’s room. It’s 9:00 am. She is whispering into the phone, “You gotta’ come up here. I can’t tell if he’s breathing, he won’t wake up.”
I hurry to his room and she meets me at the door and leads me to his bed. We both stand there over his motionless body, hoping that the darling Englishman, whom we love so much, will come back to life. “What are we gonna’ do?” she says to me.
“What did you do to him? How long has he been this way?” I implore her.
“Well, we did some pills from that baggy I found. He said he knew what they were and it would be all right. I didn’t do anything, I swear. He was like this when I woke up.”
I lean my head down to him and listen to his chest. He’s breathing. What a relief. “Get your stuff and let’s get out of here.” I tell her.
We find Kelly, gather our belongings and head for home. This adventure gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “Frampton Comes Alive.”
Years later I hear a radio interview with Peter Frampton and he says he doesn’t remember a whole lot about that time in his life. Lucky for us.
I feed him again in ’87 when he is playing guitar for David Bowie’s Glass Spider tour. I say ‘Hi’ to him in the hallway and he seems to have no recollection of who I am.
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